A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early June, 1986


Monday, June 2, 1986

11 PM. Last night at this time I went out to get the next day’s Times, and after I read it, I watched some TV and still didn’t feel tired, so it was very late before I fell asleep.

This morning the heat and humidity of the weekend were replaced by temperatures so cool, I needed a jacket; right now it must be only 60° or so, nearly chilly.

The EPIE software evaluation training session began at 11 AM and took nearly three hours. I was pretty bored during most of it, but I think I can learn a good deal about computer-assisted instruction.

EPIE is so thorough that their evaluative process is very tedious; it can take eight to twelve hours for someone to go through a software program with the EPIE form.

The two women who were being debriefed by the trainer, Jay, seemed to have a lot more trouble with the questions on the form than I would have.

It’s comforting to know that when I’m in a group doing something that seems way beyond me, usually the others in the group are also having trouble.

It’s that way with my Software Evaluation class, too. I suspect Anne is not the most organized teacher, and though she has all the material, she sort of throws it at students without clear step-by-step instructions.

I did enjoy tonight’s class, however, probably because it was a review of the material I studied in the training session.

When I got home from Rockaway today at 2 PM, I turned on the first live TV coverage of the Senate and had lunch.

Then I got a call from Rick Peabody, who said he was on his way to the Gotham Book Mart. He came in earlier this afternoon and was at Simon and Schuster, where the friend he’s staying with works.

I immediately left the house and went to the Gotham to meet Rick. It was great to see him again after nearly four years.

I took him back here because I couldn’t figure out a place to hang out in midtown; also, he seemed kind of disoriented, the way I always feel in a strange city.

We talked about everything from books and politics to the style of today’s teenagers. Rick is someone I share information and insights with; if I didn’t like him so much, I’d say we networked together, to use that horrible new term.

Some tidbits from today’s debriefing: The people at Simon and Schuster came back from the American Booksellers Association convention in New Orleans with word that there are no big literary books coming out this year.

“Even the people in New York publishing don’t believe in what they’re doing,” said Rick. “But they’re trying anything, and since David Leavitt and Bret Ellis, it seems anybody in his or her early twenties can get fiction published by the big New York houses. It’s like everything I’ve been saying for a decade about them ignoring younger writers is no longer valid.”

(Not to mention Kostelanetz’s thesis in The End of Intelligent Writing.)

At the ABA, George Myers had dinner with Andrei Codrescu, who invited along Russell Banks, Ron Sukenick and Clarence Major, all of whom were surprised that George – “You mean you’re the guy who’s been writing about us?” – was so young.

Rick related his humiliation at George Washington University, where he said a class of Yuppies-in-training laughed him out of a classroom, thinking he was an idiot to be losing money by publishing the kinds of writing he does.

“Fuck them,” I said, but I understand how devastated Rick must have felt; when he got back from GWU, he unloaded on Gretchen, who finally said, correctly, that it isn’t important what asshole kids think. (“But they’ll be running the country in a few years,” Rick said.)

Upstairs at the Harrimans, Rick says they can’t figure out whom the Democrats can run in ’88: maybe Cuomo or Hart again or they’re trying to draft Iacocca.

Rick figures the Republicans will run Dole and Kemp; I agreed that Bush will fade, but I think Dole is too much the Washington insider to ever get elected.

I hope to see Rick again before he leaves, and maybe we can get together with Tom, who sent me a letter today. He may get his sabbatical next year.

Tuesday, June 3, 1986

10 PM. In a couple of hours, it will be my 35th birthday – big deal, huh?

Unable to get to bed until late last night, I ended up sleeping till nearly noon today.

Although I haven’t yet seen the article attacking me in the Fort Lauderdale paper, I wrote down some notes for a response to it; hopefully, I can have it ready in a flash.

For nearly two weeks I’ve been avoiding writing my first assignment for Software Evaluation, but it’s due tomorrow, and I finally buckled down and finished it tonight. What a relief.

The second assignment, a proto-EPIE evaluation with a partner, will be put into motion in class tomorrow. Now I’ve got the important assignment – the term paper project – to start. I haven’t even picked a topic yet.

Today I felt real lazy, but not indolent: I was tired from yesterday and from the writing I did today.

Teresa called from Albany; tomorrow night she’ll be in Buffalo.

Tom should be coming in tonight or tomorrow.

I got a letter from Crad that has me worried about him. Business on the street is terrible, and he’s growing more hostile, angry, and depressed.

His laundry list of racist, sexist epithets about the Torontonians who pass him by (“moronic teenagers, fashion fags, rich snobs, grey-suited zombies, humorless Orientals, happy-go-lucky nitwit niggers”) is his usual ranting.

I understand Crad’s frustration, but he’s definitely moving towards craziness: “I feel like either committing murder or killing myself. As long as I’m alive, I’m not going to be respected except by a tiny minority of the population.”

Like he respects them, right?

Josh doesn’t like Crad, and as much as I respect his talent for writing, I’m losing patience with him, too. Perhaps I’d be a better writer if I were as self-centered as Crad is, but I’d also be a lot unhappier.

A one-line paragraph from his letter: “My landlady is crazy, and I’m not speaking to her or using her shower.”

Gwen, his girlfriend, seems to be the one bright spot in his life (though he was pleased by a visit to speak to a creative writing class at Ontario’s most prestigious prep school, where he was treated well).

Gwen had Crad look over the manuscripts she got as a judge for the Ontario Arts Council’s $10,000 fellowship. Of the fiction, Crad said it was almost all dull and boring, the kind of stuff you’d expect in 1946, not 1986.

There I trust Crad’s judgment completely. Though well-respected in Canada’s literary community, Gwen seems to harbor some of Crad’s (and my own) resentment of the “official” literary culture.

Using a Visa cash advance, I opened a ChemPlus account at Chemical Bank; I get free checking with $1000 in Super Savings.

Since I previously had no checking account in New York, I had no way of sending out checks to my out-of-town bank accounts; any cash I got here, I had to put into my First Nationwide passbook account.

Now I’m up to about $23,000 in my various bank accounts, of which I have nearly a dozen. Maybe I can start going to Sears stores for Discover cash advances now.

I probably could actually work myself up to having $40,000 in the bank. Playing with money is such fun.

Ronna is going to Florida from Wednesday to Saturday of next week.

Grandma’s doctor did some thorough tests; he thinks her burning sensation is related to her “nerves” – or so she told me.

Wednesday, June 4, 1986

10 PM. I wish I had something profound to say about my 35th birthday, but I’m afraid Our Hero is not in all that reflective a mood tonight.

As I just noted when I spoke to Grandma, last night I heard on the radio that the average age of death for an American male today is 70, so I’m halfway there.

I remember 25 being traumatic, but 30 was a breeze, and I didn’t even notice today much. Like Grandpa Herb I’ve always made myself older than I am, so I’ve been thinking I’m 35 for most of the past year. Next is 36: double chai.

The only birthday card I got was from my parents. “Was it too sentimental?” Mom asked when I called to thank her for the shirt she sent – a pink-and-grey striped shirt which I wore today and the $35 check from her and Dad.

“No, it was very sweet,” I told her, though I was a little embarrassed by its fulsome praise in verse.

I’d have rather not gone to my class tonight, for I could think of many better ways to spend my birthday than to be working on my second assignment for Software Evaluation.

Until now I’ve been suspending judgment, but the class, now halfway through, has been a big disappointment. I should have taken Programming II, which would have been less boring.

I’m not sure if it’s the instructor or the material, but this stuff is dull and I still feel I’m slightly lost (but everyone else is too). Oh, well, I’ll just slog through it for another three weeks and hope Computers and Writing is a lot better next session.

Now that I really have credentials in computer education, I think I’m pretty bored by the field. Probably I just haven’t been exposed to its more interesting forms.

Anyway, I slept till noon today. I’ve been getting into this bad sleeping pattern in which I’m wide awake at midnight and can’t settle down to sleep till 4 AM or so. I wouldn’t mind if I was doing something constructive all night, but I’m not.

Last night I spoke to Jami for about an hour. She’s real sweet; I could hear her African parakeet in the background. Jami is going to be 30 in August.

“August 10?” I asked and she said, “Yes.” I have no idea how I guessed the date.

Her biggest claim to fame in her writing career so far was her exclusive interview with Margaret Trudeau the night Pierre was dumped from office.

Jami went up to Margaret at Studio 54 and asked her to dance and that was recorded in a famous photograph that I clearly remember. We talked for a long time and agreed to get together soon.

Today’s mail included the section of Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel with Barc Bowman’s column, “Whippersnappers vs. Senior Discounts,” a light-hearted piece which began, “I’ve got half a mind to thrash that young whippersnapper Richard Grayson with my cane,” and ended by saying I’ll probably be the first to line up for my senior discounts.

I wrote a 4-page reply which wasn’t as tongue-in-cheek as Bowman’s piece. Though I used a lot of humor, it was more biting and maybe even too strong an attack on Florida’s selfish affluent seniors.

I mailed it off to Ken Goodman, the editor, although he said he’d call me tomorrow to talk.

Even if the piece doesn’t get printed, or gets edited to death, I enjoyed writing it and reveled in the knowledge that I can still turn a good phrase.

I don’t doubt that I’m a good writer; this piece had real style to it, although it was pretty insulting. Part of the fun was imagining raising the hackles of the old people reading it.

I’ve never been one to run away from controversy, and I like taking up unpopular causes.

God, I’ve had a lot of fun, haven’t I? It’s been a more exciting life than I would have imagined at 18.

Which reminds me: only two more months of diary entries (and living) and I’ll have completed 17 years of them. I may not have longevity, but the time I’ve had on this weird planet has been, in today’s pop psych jargon, “quality time.”

Thursday, June 5, 1986

8 PM. I ended up talking to a lot of friends before my birthday was over.

Gary returned my call and expressed strong disappointment that I hadn’t kept in touch. I felt bad that I was remiss, and after he accepted my apology, we moved on to other topics.

He and Eileen are doing fine, and they’re planning on buying a three-bedroom house in Syosset this summer.

Before that, the people who have bought Gary’s co-op have to be approved by his board. Gary is nervous about meeting the mortgage payments on the Syosset house but feels he can swing it.

The high cost of housing for our generation is a terrible thing; Gary and Eileen probably have a combined salary in six figures and can barely afford a decent house on Long Island.

Next week Eileen has to go into the hospital for foot surgery, and the bad part is that Eileen must be off her feet totally for three months, “so I’ve got a little baby to take care of,” Gary said.

Pete called after getting back from San Francisco, where he had a good time and said that his performance went well.

He saw Paul Fericano, who says I must write him; Paul’s doing well with his YU News Service, which Paul Krassner’s newly-revived Realist has picked up.

Pete got a raise at Equitable, and he’s excited about his flexy-disk record that will be out this weekend.

Justin told me all about his vacation. He spent the first week at Larry’s in Reading, where they saw a lot of their friends.

The hotel is being renovated right now; the owners said they may do dinner theater again, and if so, they’ll call Justin.

In Washington, Larry and Justin stayed at a pleasant hotel near DuPont Circle (unfortunately, the Gralyn was booked), and they saw all the exhibits at the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn, went to a play at Ford’s Theater, etc.

On the way back to Pennsylvania, they stopped to see exhibits of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Yousuf Karsh photographs at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.

Back home, Justin was happy to find his new roommate downstairs; the guy already painted his room, and Justin thinks he’ll work out well.

For this summer, Justin plans to work only three days a week. I’d saved tomorrow night for him, so I’ll see him then.

Ronna phoned to wish me a happy birthday; we’ll get together on Sunday. It’s too bad that now that she is finally going to Florida, I won’t be there.

I got to sleep about 2 AM, which isn’t bad for me lately, and this morning I was out of the house by 10 AM.

Rick called to say he was heading back to D.C.; I told him it was great to see him on Monday and he said he’ll mail me the present he’d forgotten to bring when we met.

Unfortunately, I missed Tom, who left messages from Shakespeare and Company and Endicott in his trek to local bookstores. I hope I can see Tom tomorrow.

When I got to Teachers College, I found I couldn’t collect my student loan check till 1 PM, so I decided to go up to the Bronx and get a Discover cash advance at the Sears on Fordham Road.

Unfortunately, it was an extremely humid day, and getting there by subway from Columbia was exceedingly difficult. And I had to walk quite a ways up Fordham Road.

When Dad had his Pants Set store there many years ago, it was a mostly black area, but now it seems largely Hispanic.

At the customer service center of the dilapidated Sears, I got a $500 cash advance on one of my Discover cards. I’d been nervous about carrying all that money, but luckily there was a Chemical Bank across the street so I could deposit it into my new checking account.

To get back to Columbia, I took the D train to 59th Street and then backtracked to 116th Street on the IRT.

At 2 PM, I got my check, had a yogurt in the cafeteria, took the bus down Broadway, deposited the check, and came home to hose down my sweaty body and get into a tie and jacket for my second interview at Fashion Institute of Technology.

Prof. Peterson took me in to see Dean Marcus, a vacuous woman with whom I made pleasant, mindless talk. I guess I did okay, because after 15 minutes, it was over and she said, “Welcome to FIT.”

Back at the English Department, Prof. Peterson gave me a mound of personnel forms to take home and fill out, and my fall schedule, very compact: Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 AM till noon (each comp class meets two hours one day and one hour the other day) and a Friday evening continuing ed section. Not bad, really.

Studying the packet I got, I see the pay is comparable to CUNY’s – about $37 an hour. FIT has a strong union – it’s part of SUNY – and the faculty seem very much in charge. It looks like a nice place: relaxed and informal.

Obviously, I’ve got to accept the job, but if anything better comes along, I’ll take that instead.

Still, with 20 students in a class, it won’t be all that much work – and it should be much more interesting and satisfying than teaching remedial writing to mostly minority students at CUNY.

Friday, June 6, 1986

4 PM. Although I was extremely tired last night, I was unable to get to sleep. I guess this is just a bad patch of “sleep patterns,” like the one I had last October in Brooklyn.

Eventually that one lifted, and I went into a period of sleeping very well, so I’ll just have to wait this one out. For some reason my mind races when I try to fall asleep. Last night I slept from 5 AM till 10 AM, and it wasn’t very refreshing.

I spent most of today with Tom, who came over at 11 AM and left a little while ago. He looks good.

This was the most intellectually satisfying teaching year he’s had in a long while, and it looks as though he will get his sabbatical this coming year. Nick Bozanic, who’s been in Tallahassee, will come in and take over for Tom.

Randy Bates is going from half-time to quarter-time at NOCCA because he won an NEA fellowship. Right now he’s at Yaddo, courtesy of Tim O’Brien, who became his patron from their time at Bread Loaf.

If the sabbatical does come through, Tom will live in Baltimore with Debra.

He’s looking forward to being with her in Europe; they’ll spend the first month in Germany where Debra found a nearby room for Tom so he can write, and then they’ll travel, though Tom hopes they’ll settle down somewhere for at least a week at a time.

Tom brought over some fruit and bread and cottage cheese so we didn’t have to go out. We talked for hours about literature, literary politics, publishing, world politics, the tenor of the times, etc.

I always enjoy hearing Tom’s views, though like everyone else (myself included), he’s somewhat biased based on his own experiences. I only wish I could detect my own prejudices and myths the way I can everyone else’s.

Tom is very pessimistic about the future, especially after Chernobyl, which he feels will affect mankind for generations; he says the ecosystem of Europe has already been destroyed.

Myself, I haven’t thought much about the Chernobyl disaster. It took days before I even mentioned it in passing in my diary.

Tom is so sure of himself – the way Crad is, the way Pete is: it’s a quality I envy yet may be better off for not possessing.

Last summer Tom wrote stories like crazy, but they’ve all been rejected by every magazine he’s sent them to.

I remember how bad I felt last August, comparing my lack of output with Tom’s huge outpouring of writing; now I’m petty enough to feel a little better about it.

We talked about Crad and agreed he should get off the street – but that would mean taking a part-time job, something Crad has been unwilling to do.

Saturday, June 7, 1986

7 PM. The topic for today’s sermon, boys and girls, is greed.

The New York Times reports on the guilty plea of Dennis B. Levine, million-dollar-a-year securities analyst whose insider trading schemes may be just the tip of the iceberg on Wall Street.

In an unrelated case, five hotshot Jewish lawyers and brokers, ranging in age from 23 to 27, pled guilty to insider trading and fraud.

The New York City political corruption scandals; the lack of affordable housing because of Koch’s kowtowing to real estate interests; Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; Dynasty; Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins novels that in a kind of literary Gresham’s Law drive out worthy books from publication – I don’t know, but it just seems to me that people have never been greedier or prouder of their greed.

Many of my own friends seem almost twisted by greed – like Alice, for example, who almost appears to salivate when Big Money is mentioned. It’s so refreshing to see a Rick Peabody or a Tom Whalen in these times.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me when I see it so clearly – that money and luxury beyond a certain point are nothing but shit and selfishness – and so many others don’t.

Well, I told you I’d be preaching, didn’t I? Sorry. I’ve got my strength back, I guess.

Last night I slept well for a change, having one nice dream about Mark Feinstein (not to be obsessive, but his only ambition was “to get very, very rich”).

Yesterday I had a hard workout from 5 PM to 6 PM which felt very good. Exercise is such a drag, but it leaves me feeling terrific.

When Justin came over at 6:30 PM, he was hungry, so went out to Szechuan Broadway right away. Justin graciously paid as a birthday treat for me; I’ll reciprocate in August. He obviously had a great vacation with Larry, and he seems fine.

Justin will probably succeed in the theater, not so much because of his talent but because he’s got the character to persevere.

He gave me a copy of his play, Marvin, Resurrected, and I was impressed with his growth as a playwright. While the play has flaws, it’s the best thing of Justin’s I’ve seen.

Marvin is a 14-year-old boy kidnapped by a child molester, who didn’t treat him all that badly; by comparison, Marvin’s parents, when he returns home, are shown to be emotionally oafish and less sympathetic than the kidnapper, who’s a kind of perverted Peter Pan.

The play definitely has power and potential.

After dinner last night, Justin and I went to see Short Circuit, an embarrassingly cloying comedy about a robot who comes to life. It wasn’t badly made, but it was very predictable and silly.

Justin left here at 11 PM or so; it had turned cool and rainy by then, and today was delightfully cool but dreary.

Josh called to tell me that Todd left a message saying that he was thinking of coming over. Although Josh wanted to see Tom with me, he said Todd needed to see him because he was so depressed about his dog’s death.

Luckily, Tom, when I called him, was gracious enough to tell Josh to bring Todd along.

In the time till our 2 PM appointment, I worked out a little, showered, and then went to buy a Father’s Day card for Dad, some groceries (I met a lovely old lady on line at the Red Apple), and two H&H bagels that I had for lunch.

Mom sent me some more mail. Bill Smart thanked me for my (small) contribution to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and said my People story was very funny.

I also got some bills – my Dollar Dry Dock credit line among them – and the Bankcard Holders of America newsletter. It looks as though credit card rates may be coming down a little; in Connecticut, there’s sort of a rate war right now.

Josh told Tom he thinks my credit card ideas are crazy, and today Josh attacked my idea for means-based testing for social security even though I read him an article from today’s paper quoting the President’s Council of Economic Advisers about the transfer of income from young to old.

Josh buys all the old myths: Jews are hated by Gentiles (I’ve never known anyone else our age who has such a ghetto mentality); the Israelis are the good guys and Arabs are vermin; old people are usually poor and feeble; Southerners are racist.

(Tom told me that when he was in New Orleans, Josh kept looking for signs of blacks being mistreated and kept asking Tom about it until Tom said, “Hey, they’re the majority. We’d better be nice to them if only for own good.”)

Tom agreed with me that Josh should get out of Blue Cross, and today Josh wrote NYU back, saying he’d like to be considered for the job there again.

(He’d last written them saying he couldn’t leave Blue Cross for six months. The reason? He didn’t want to leave Simon’s sister working there alone. Except it turned out she left first.)

I guess Josh and I are a little annoyed with each other because we have very different viewpoints.

Tom branded him a “laissez-faire conservative” when Josh defended publishers printing trashy best sellers “because they give a lot of people pleasure, and publishers are in business to make money so if that’s the books people want, they’ve got to give it to them.”

Tom – and this brings us back to our sermon – said that if the New York publishers were less greedy, as they were in the 1960s when Great Society library funds made it possible for them to publish all kinds of books, they wouldn’t have to bring out only trashy novels.

Todd was a little out of his league in the conversation; while he’s such a nice guy, in many ways Todd is like a kid.

There were some dull spots in our afternoon talk, but I enjoyed the verbal fireworks when they happened.

In Florida, I never hear provocative conversations about ideas of any kind. Being with Tom is always stimulating. I’ll be glad to see him in a couple of months when he and Debra return from Europe.

I’m glad I get excited about things and still can feel outraged. And of course, give me an unpopular cause – defending pornography, fighting senior discounts, supporting a Florida income tax or Palestinian rights – and I’m in heaven.

Anybody can fight for a popular cause, after all.

Sunday, June 8, 1986

9 PM. “Enjoy yourself while you can,” said the fortune cookie I got tonight while having dinner with Ronna. Ominous? Well, I think it’s good advice, one which I’ve always tried to follow.

Today was very sticky. This morning I did the laundry and made plans for the early evening with Ronna.

At the Teachers College library, I spent a couple of hours working up a proposal for my big paper. I’ll write a prospectus tomorrow.

I think it will be “A Protocol for Evaluation of Word Processing Packages for Use in College Composition Courses.” This paper, which will be 20 pages or so, is going to be a doozy to work on.

I’ve got to admit that before Ronna got here, I had fantasized about trying to fool around with her. But by the time she arrived, I controlled myself and I’m glad I did.

She saw Donald last night, for their sixth date, and it looks as though that’s definitely leading somewhere. Perhaps the main stumbling block is that he’s a musician and probably can’t earn any more money than a writer or artist.

Ronna’s never been one of the greedy people, though. Still, she’d like to marry someone who could afford to let her quit work and have a baby.

We hung out in this room for an hour before going to Szechuan Broadway. I gave Ronna my Walkman and the Mozart tapes I use to calm me down when I fly; I also gave her some ginger capsules for the plane ride, about which she’s very nervous.

The movers came to Brooklyn last week, and her grandmother left for Orlando last Friday. I know the trauma associated with your family moving to another state, so I think I can empathize with Ronna.

She’ll be back next Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if she still hates Florida after visiting it.

After walking her home, I gave her a tentative peck on the cheek goodbye when we reached the entrance to her building. I was happy when, in response, she put her arms around me and gave me a big hug and kiss.

I just called Grandma, whose pain subsides in the evening but drives her crazy when she awakens. Happily, Grandma and I ended up having a good conversation.

She was at Aunt Tillie’s today for another family gathering. Aunt Betty fell before entering a hotel in the Catskills, and instead of a vacation, she got two days in a Monticello hospital (for which the bill was $2000, paid by Medicare and other insurers).

Aunt Minnie and Uncle Irving, trying for extra income, fixed up their basement and rented it out to a young black fashion model – but they’re afraid of trouble, because they’re not zoned as a two-family house.

Monday, June 9, 1986

10 PM. This evening’s class was interesting, as we discussed comprehensive software packages, particularly in the field of computer literacy.

I’m not behind anyone in the class in handing in assignments, and as one of my fellow students said, the instructor can’t expect us to produce in a few weeks the kind of papers she has on file in the library.

At least I handed in my prospectus tonight.

This morning, I went from bank to bank getting cash advances from tellers and ATMs. It’s a silly little game, but I collected $2400 which I deposited in my Chemical 7% savings account.

In the mail I got my credit union and Citibank Financial Account statements, so I spent several hours juggling my money.

Josh and Tom say it’s not really “my” money, but they just don’t understand.

Interesting thing: I saw half a dozen other people getting credit card advances this morning.

Yesterday, in an article about the growth of consumer debt, one banker remarked that people see their credit line as extra income, not as a revolving loan that must be paid off.

Obviously, I’m not the only person who thinks the way I do.

Teresa told me that in March she promised her friends from Miami the use of her apartment for a weekend, so I’ll go to Grandma’s on Friday and get back on Sunday evening, when Dad arrives.

Tomorrow I’ve got to get my Delta ticket re-issued; Dad will use it to go home next Wednesday. If it’s not used by June 30, I’ll lose the $69 fare.

Why is it I feel I have so much to do? I’ve got my software project for class, the final term paper, the EPIE evaluation due Friday, the FIT application forms and materials, several letters to get out. . .

But that’s not all that much, really. After all, it’s not like I’m working at a real job now.